Archive for the ‘Feature’ Category

There is a ‘twenty year rule’ for pop music. It applies across other genres but rings especially true in pop. When a chart song comes out the ‘music fans’ hate it; after ten years it’s ever so ironic, and after twenty it joins the classic pop cannon.

It happened to Burt Bacharach, Elvis and Abba; it happened to synthpop and Stock Aitken and Waterman, and whether you like it or not, it will happen to Girls Aloud and Lady Gaga.

The latter gets complicated though. The 00s/10s have been particularly forgiving of cheese. In our metropolitan anything goes era, listening to chart music isn’t quite the social faux pas it was in the dark tribal days.

There are of course exceptions. When pop goes wrong, it goes really wrong. Some songs are so poisonous the contagion never leaves.

If you could somehow distil down a weekend in Blackpool into a song you’d have Cher’s ‘Believe’. Only, you can actually escape Chav-Vegas. But like a sewer rat, you are never very far from ‘Believe’. It still evokes a wedding punch-up, a mobile DJ or the worst kind of 6am drinking.

The whole composition is phoned-in europop b-side fodder. Cher does his automated operabot programming all the justice it deserves: complete personal engagement with an near sociopathic lack of emotion.

It’s nice to see that Cher himself – in typically modest fashion – takes full credit for inventing autotune. As if she not only devised the studio technique, but also sleeps soundly at night with the utter shame of what became of that. Having said that. At least there is some remnant of something new for 00s pop, except the pornography.

Every band does it and it’s more complicated than it looks. Here is some useful nuggets from a seasoned pro of playing shitty local gigs:

Practice. This seems a no-brainer but do it, do it in every variant you can. Practice in the dark, without your singer, with all the treble pulled down whatever. The first thing that hits you when you play live is how terrible it sounds on stage. Don’t worry, it sounds great out front. Once you learn this, you join that elite club that separates the muso from the drunken morons you desperately want to pay to come and see you.

Embrace the fear. Playing live is frightening, but exhilarating. Your adrenaline level is redlining and you may well make a mistake; that’s fine, no one will care. What ever you do though, DON’T call attention to it. Especially if your band-mate makes a blunder. You are a gang remember? Gangs look after each other.

Be nice to the sound engineer – even if they hate life. Your gig is in their hands. Chat with them, have faith in them, even thank them between songs if you like. If you need anything – reverb on the vocals perhaps – just ask. Engineers like bands that know what they are doing. Some people are dismissive to the engineer. This is incredibly rude, but also dangerous. The music scene is very small and everyone knows each other. You don’t want a reputation for being dicks. Promoters would rather take a risk on a band that acts professionally.

Be on time. Another no-brainer – you’d think. It really messes up the flow of soundcheck if bands are late or forget the drumkit or something.

Dress the part. You want to look like a band even when you aren’t on stage. It also gives the band a hook, “remember the band that was dressed up as…”. Having said that, don’t go too far, you don’t want to be one of those twats that wears a scarf and blazer on stage.

Behave. This is especially applicable to bands under 18. A lot of people don’t like to play with ‘school’ bands. They piss about, get too drunk, have disrespectful fans and they leave after their set. Prove them wrong, show them up for the stuffy old fools they are! Take in what’s going on too. If you are serious, you are going to spend a lot of time in this environment. Learn the protocol now. Also, if you make a mess, tidy up after yourself.

Watch the other bands. Asides from that fact it’s polite to watch each band, every amazing band out there started by playing tiny venues like you are. You might see the next Pixies – or worse you might see the current one. Getting to know bands is a great way of getting gigs. Speak to out of town bands too. If you get on, you can gig swap and sleep on each others couches. You may want to tour one day, start your network now. As tired as it is: it’s now what you know…

Bring the right gear. You don’t want to get there and have forgotten your strap/sticks/keyboard stand. It’s embarrassing and annoying. Incidentally, an ironing board makes a perfectly serviceable keyboard stand.

No noodling, ever, at all. That’s you guitarists/bassists. No one cares how good your minor pentatonic is. There’s a lot of standing about during soundcheck. Don’t punctuate that with noodling. By all means get your ‘tone’ and volume right but no more. Drummers tend to noodle too. Even when they don’t have a kit and are sitting right behind you, that’s for another time though.

Promote yourself. Make sure you say your band name from the stage. After the first and before the last songs should do it. Make some flyers with your Facebook/Soundcloud on them. People will just forget your band name otherwise. Make sure your band name is pronounceable – seriously, how is oOoOO a band name? – and not obvious. True story: I worked in promotion. I went through a list of possible support bands. One was called Citizens. A popular name. I couldn’t find the specific one, they didn’t get the gig.

Don’t talk to your mates from the stage. It’s unprofessional and alienates the audience. It’s always crap in-jokes anyway. Don’t talk too much either. Play your songs and finish. Never for too long. No longer than half an hour for an unsigned act. Leave your audience wanting more.

Cover versions. As a general rule, avoid them. Very few are any good and worse case scenario: they highlight how much better a ‘classic’ is than the rest of your set. If you must cover a song, chose one from a different genre and get a girl to sing a guys song or vice-versa. Something radically different, think of something. Whatever you do though, don’t cover a song by a band you sound like. You’ll look spectacularly unimaginative. This is doubly important if you are a school band. By all means learn obvious covers for the practice room, but keep them secret.

Gear swap. many venues don’t have a backline. Sharing gear saves hassle. Guitarists: learn how to treat a valve amp nicely. Drummers: bring breakables. If someone breaks a string mid-set, be kind and let them use your guitar, they won’t break it. Presumably you haven’t brought an £1,800 PRS to the pub anyway. Be warned – promoters aren’t to be trusted to organise the gear swap, contact the bands. Last thing you want is to take a gargantuan bass amp and drums only to find some there.

Pay-To-Play. Not seen this too much out of London, some twat will try it at some point though. Never agree to it. If bands flatly refuse, the practice will stop. Power to the people/smash the system etc.

Bring people. A promoters job is to promote, obviously. It’s also your job. In doing so you get to promote your band anyway so it’s win-win. Bring all your mates, have a good time, but don’t think cause the place is rammed with your friends you are a rock star or are going to get signed. A label wants a huge dollop of ‘buzz’ before that will happen. When complete strangers come, you can get excited.

Have fun. The most important thing. Many bands have taken themselves so seriously they end up breaking up. The hours are crap, there’s little money, lots of lifting, late night rehearsals etc. etc. Being in a band is hard work. The pay-off is playing live. In all probability you will never headline Brixton Academy, you can still meet loads of amazing people and have a laugh trying. And you get to be in a band.